GEOReflects 2018 Winners duke university global education office

About the GEOReflects Contest

The annual GEOReflects Contest challenges students to examine their time studying away from Duke by bridging artistic expression and educational experience. Through photography and short written pieces, GEOReflects encourages students to use their study abroad/study away experience to develop a deeper understanding of other cultures and of themselves. Contest details >

Number of entries

This year, the contest received 183 eligible entries. The 37 finalists featured below were recognized by one or more judges for their submissions.

How winners were determined

Five judges appointed by the Global Education Office each voted by ranking their top three picks for each of three categories: Academic Experiences, Cultural Perspective, and Self-Awareness. Points were awarded to entries based on the number and rank of votes earned.

  • Best in Category earned the highest number of points across all judges' votes.
  • Runner Up earned the second-highest number of points across all judges' votes.
  • Judges' Top Picks earned the highest number of points for a single judge's vote.
  • Honorable Mentions earned points from a single judge's vote.



Reflections on Academics & Learning

Best in Category – Academic Experiences: 'Unlearning' by Katie Nelson

'Unlearning' by Katie Nelson

Bhaktapur, Nepal // It took only a split second for our baa (father in Nepali) to decide that his teaching would be more valuable. In many ways, he was right. No reading of a history book could replicate Bhaktapur - and so, without consultation, we found ourselves on an afternoon bus to one of Kathmandu Valley's oldest cities. For years, he was a guide on the side of his traditional job as a teacher. We nearly jogged to keep up with him, weaving through the bright sunny streets as he pointed out different shops, temples, stopping (but only briefly) to relay their historical significance. Late monsoon season humidity combined with dust swallows our chance to catch our breath. Academics are a funny thing. They don't always come in the form we think they're going to. Coming from Duke, it is incredibly easy to assert the voice of elite institutions, of hard research and theoretical discussion - we are conditioned to champion these narratives. We confuse learning and academic work as one. What do we call ourselves when our intellectual findings are a product of the world? When we are out of the classroom, what do these facts and figures fall into? In unlearning our traditions, maybe we have the opportunity to move further.


Listed in alphabetical order by entry title.

Judges' Top Picks – Academic Experiences: 'An Education Beyond the Walls' by Katherine Berko

'An Education Beyond the Walls' by Katherine Berko

This statue embodies my time abroad. He appears pained but look closer. He’s actually deeply pensieve, reflecting on his surroundings. He’s not in some museum to be pondered about, in a carefully curated exhibit with a closely monitored thermostat. No. He’s in the real world, peering out from a bridge in Amsterdam. This is precisely what I did in Europe. Yes, I went into the classroom but the classroom expanded beyond the university walls. I read Spanish plays and saw them performed in old theaters. I learned to distinguish between Medieval versus Renaissance paintings via powerpoints and then went to the Prado, where my professor pointed out the differences by taking us to the works of Bosch and El Greco. I no longer practiced Spanish solely for oral exams. Instead, I wandered Madrid’s streets conversing with locals at cafés, in boutiques, when I was lost. I didn’t just read Anne Frank’s diary - I went to the annex where she wrote the pages, looked out the window she was too afraid to peek through. This education cannot be gleaned solely from books or classes. It is an education that comes only by pushing oneself off of the sheltered university campus.

Judges' Top Picks – Academic Experiences: 'Going Global' by Sara Evall

'Going Global' by Sara Evall

At the top of a steep hike to a place called the World Peace Pagoda in Nepal are an overlook of the Himalayas and a slew of cafes and eateries for hungry travelers and locals alike. The power of both English-speaking tourists and English as a lingua franca could not be forgotten at the top of this hike, as we could see a multi-leveled café with a sign in huge, block letters reading: “ESPRESSO COFFEE.” This spot was an interesting one to examine cross-cultural exchange and globalization in a more real sense, as it was a topic we discussed heavily in regards to the cultural and development interests of western nations in places like Nepal. All of the forces of globalization we discussed in class were literally written all over this café: foreign-driven demand for coffee, the need to use English to attract tourists to your café in a tourist-driven economy, and the dominance of English as a lingua franca all collided onto the façade of this structure. Learning followed us on our hike up a small mountain, and I would not have had it another way.

Judges' Top Picks – Academic Experiences: 'Morning Light' by Caroline Bay

'Morning Light' by Caroline Bay

These are the fishing boats of the fishermen of Arniston, South Africa's only historical fishing village. I captured this shot in the early morning hours before class. You might be wondering, why are these fishing boats on land? Why are they not in the water? The fishermen of Arniston are being denied their rights to fish by the South African government. The government claims these small-scale fishermen are responsible for overfishing, yet still grants large companies commercial fishing licenses and gives a weapons testing facility the privilege to shoot test rockets into the nearby fishing waters. Arniston is a beautiful beachside town, but beneath its beauty there are serious injustices that are taking place against the fishermen of Arniston, whose main source of income for the past 100 years has been selling their daily catch. With this photo, I hope to share Arniston's beauty but also to bring awareness to a real world human rights issue. I challenge viewers to appreciate beauty, but to also question it.

Judges' Top Picks – Academic Experiences: 'Threats to a South African Ecosystem' by Stella Wang

'Threats to a South African Ecosystem' by Stella Wang

The man in this photo is holding two dangerous objects: a rifle, only to be used for protection should a predator come too close to park visitors, and an invasive plant species, which outcompetes native ones for resources and disrupts the natural sediment quality of river beds. Which is more menacing? He, a qualified botanist and one of my professors this past semester, would argue that the deceivingly beautiful flower is, as it has the potential to perturb the entire mesic savanna ecosystem of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. I had never considered a plant to be so threatening before. My entire semester away from Duke’s campus was therefore shaped by my professors. They were extremely passionate and knowledgeable – they always found ways to introduce new perspectives and make learning interactive, whether it be by taking us out into the field or bringing specimens to the classroom.

Judges' Top Picks – Academic Experiences: 'Wild City' by Sara Eval

'Wild City' by Sara Evall

Right in the center of the urban hustle and bustle of Kathmandu, Nepal is situated Swayambhunath, or the Monkey Temple. The Temple is a Buddhist prayer site, and sits on top of a steep hill. Hundreds (at minimum) of monkeys roam through the area, grabbing food from tourists, tending to their young, and going about their daily business. I was raised in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. When I learned about urbanization in high school and college, and about the displacement of wildlife and the destruction of wildlife habitats, all of these concepts felt important and urgent but abstract. Watching bands of monkeys roam through habitats filled with people, artificial structures, and swing from telephone lines solidified my learning on what it means, really, that I and all of the people around me are actively contributing to unsustainable forms of development that do not allow us to coexist with the creatures around us. Although the resilience and adaptability of these monkeys was remarkable, it still struck me how these creatures with such complex cognition and emotion have been functionally bound to one part of the city, left for tourists to take photos and religious observers to pay their respects.


Listed in alphabetical order by entry title.

Honorable Mention – Academic Experiences: 'Avenida de la Cultura' by Sam Osheroff

'Avenida de la Cultura' by Sam Osheroff

Every day on the walk between my homestay in San José and the language academy where we took classes, I made a point of passing along La avenida de la cultura, one of the central roads of La Universidad de Costa Rica. As part of our cultural Spanish class we visited this campus to talk to the students, most of whom were our age, learning about their college experience and comparing it to our own. La avenida de la cultura, a favorite spot on campus, featured regularly into my conversations with UCR students, who were happy to discuss the wealth of culture that permeated not just the visual experience of this street, but the more intangible aspects as well. Los personajes, the historical figures brought to life in the stunningly photorealistic graffiti portraits lining one side, seem to lend this part of the university a mystical air. To take a walk down La avenida is to step back from the bustling atmosphere of the university and San José and acknowledge the rich history of Latin American culture, at once rooted in the past yet still firmly relevant to the present experience that is Costa Rica.

Honorable Mention – Academic Experiences: 'Mandela's Legacy' by Virginia Reid

'Mandela's Legacy' by Virginia Reid

Mandela's face peers down on shoppers in the Central Business District of Cape Town. Mandela's legacy in Cape Town is just as divided as the history of South Africa itself. I heard differing opinions from students I met at the University of Cape Town in South Africa- most lauded the fact that Mandela personifies the long struggle to end apartheid, and the continual struggle for equality. However, other peers talked about Mandela's legacy with sadness, noting that the Cape Town I experienced today is far too similar to the world Mandela entered when he was released from prison in the 1990s. It's true that apartheid has been outlawed, but the University experiences so many of the same issues that were apparent in Mandela's lifetime. Students of color are admitted to graduate schools at abysmal rates, and the mostly-white faculty does little to support students financially. Protests among the activist student body were common. The numerous reminders of Mandela around Cape Town reminded me that in the academic sphere, in addition to the rest of South Africa, class and race issues were far from being resolved.

Honorable Mention – Academic Experiences: 'The Great Swedish Migration (and My Own)' by Madison Mastrangelo

'The Great Swedish Migration (and My Own)' by Madison Mastrangelo

In August, I completed my mini migration from New Jersey to Sweden, an almost 4,000-mile trek across the Atlantic. Once I arrived in Sweden, I dove into my study of public health and migration, learning about the very different migrants – refugees from war-torn countries – who had resettled in the Scandinavian nation. I learned about their challenges, from learning a new language to adjusting to the frigid weather and new social norms, and the recent political backlash. I also discovered that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, nearly one million Swedes emigrated to the United States, largely due to poverty. Migration, both immigration and emigration, is more ingrained in Swedish history than I had imagined and represents a controversial issue in light of the refugee crisis.

Honorable Mention – Academic Experiences: 'Through History' by Katie Nelson

'Through History' by Katie Nelson

Petra, Jordan // So much of being in Jordan was chasing history. School wasn't sitting down, copying problems from the board - rather, it was making the connection between then and now through conversation, through picking apart critical theory. And sometimes, it was from independent exploration and hands-on experience. Such is the case walking through the "rose city half as old as time," Petra. Petra is vibrant, regardless of its age. It is teeming with those anxious to learn - even in its touristy reinvention, it recreates a small epicenter of a luxurious past. The contrast between old and new was, in many ways, its purest teaching form. Watching the modern entrepreneurs on donkeys and camels traipse, gallop, through the ancient city almost became a visual learning experience. Following their footsteps, we drew farther and farther into the city's complex, into its hidden treasures, and were able to envision what might have been the full picture. Learning comes in these moments of intellectual conflict. We often forget it is undefined by academia.

Honorable Mention – Academic Experiences: 'Romeo' by Brooke Canty

'Romeo' by Brooke Canty

Photographed is my photography teacher Romeo, adorned with dozens of googly eyes. The image is a part of a series of photographs I made that aim to relieve some of the seriousness that exists in art and academia, as well as society as a whole. As a firm believer that life is beautiful, Romeo taught our class far more than technique. He often brought to light the power of an image to enact change, and encouraged us to shed light onto issues that inspired us. In addition to our individualized projects, the class explored the work of photographers, past and present, that continue to shape the way we view the world around us.

Honorable Mention – Academic Experiences: 'White Reflections' by Noah Martin

'White Reflections' by Noah Martin

While salt can come from enclosed mines, it can also come from the most wide open spaces. The Salinas Grandes of the provinces of Salta and Jujuy are high salt flats around 11500 feet above sea level. While they are not the largest salt flats in Argentina, they contribute highly to the mining economy of Argentina, supplying Lithium and Potassium salts from which metals can be extracted. The squares in the photo result from the mining process. Rainwater from rare desert storms flows under the flats, lingering beneath the layer of white. During extraction, the salt is chopped with a pickaxe until the water is reached. The miner uses a shovel to mix the salt with the water to wash away dirt and other impurities. It is then placed in a pile on the side of the pool to dry. Eventually, it is sold to industrial companies that extract various metals from the salt. As an economics major, it was fascinating to observe the beginning of a supply chain that has global economic impact.



Reflections on a host culture and/or your own

Best in Category – Cultural Perspective: 'Synesthesia' by Katie Nelson

'Synesthesia' by Katie Nelson

Petra, Jordan // Jordan moves in color - the cream-colored city of Amman; the rosy sand of Wadi Rum and Petra; the multi-shaded scarves swaying outside vendors stores; cerulean and porcelain white dishes home to date jam in the morning. The deep browns of candied nuts in their barrels command the same eye-catching attention as the deep red of dried, crushed saffron. The smells, the sounds, the colors. What I came to realize while in Amman is that they are as much a small part of the larger culture of Jordan they are defining factors. Their movement is not strictly visual, it the exchange of experience between differing populations, whether Jordanian-Jordanian, Palestinian-Jordanian, Bedouin, Iraqi, or even Syrian. They almost metamorphosize and become vehicles for a cultural synesthesia - the colors produce smells and tastes, and conversely the smells produce sounds and colors.


Listed in alphabetical order by entry title.

Judges' Top Picks – Cultural Perspective: 'Big, Friendly Giant' by Sara Evall

'Big, Friendly Giant' by Sara Evall

Until I decided to go to Jordan, I did not realize an animal like a camel could be such a point of controversy and contention – or so commonplace. I am an absolute sucker for animals, and so it was very much to my delight when I realized that camels appeared to be in abundance and easily pet in Jordan. While my experiences as an American within American culture would have me expressly avoid all things camel, as camels are painted as dirty and aggressive, my experience found quite the opposite attitude in Jordan. Although it is crucial to acknowledge my limited, touristic exposure to camel-related culture – especially at the tourist hubs of Petra and Wadi Rum – those I met who had camels and guided tourists through the sands via camel had named their camels, knew their mannerisms and how to herd and direct them, and had incredible use for them. In this cultural context, they had great utility, and generally seemed to be curious, kind creatures. They seemed to smile and were playful and snuggly with one another, and with me – I think they’re highly underrated in an American context.

Judges' Top Picks – Cultural Perspective: 'Contra la Independencia de Cataluña' by Brooke Canty

'Contra la Independencia de Cataluña' by Brooke Canty

This photo was taken the day Catalonia secessionist parties declared victory in regional elections. Both secessionists and anti-secessionists filled the streets to rally for their cause. Although my roots trace back to Spain, I knew little about the conflict that has the northern region culturally split. While Catalonia has never fully been independent from Spain, the region has always been extremely proud of its language and cultural heritage, and has always supported its autonomy. The struggle to maintain their regional government has been a long and violent one, and the violence continues to exist today; last October Catalans held an election which led to police firing rubber bullets and beating those who arrived at polling stations. Because this issue is so specific to the region, I found that internationally (even as close as Italy), the issue tends to only be looked through an economic lens, when at heart it is a deeply cultural and historical struggle that deserves to be portrayed in a new light.

Judges' Top Picks – Cultural Perspective: 'Flowers Fueled by Fire' by Virginia Reid

'Flowers Fueled by Fire' by Virginia Reid

The Cape Floristic region is the most diverse in the world, even though it is the smallest. South Africa's national flower, the King Protea, serves as a poignant metaphor for the grit and determination of a people who have been systemically discriminated against by colonialism and apartheid, but persevere nonetheless. Proteas thrive in regions with wildfires, and rely on fire to spread their seeds so that they can disperse and bloom. Their beautiful colors cover the base of Table Mountain, and constantly reminded me that just like the flowers, Capetonians are incredibly unwavering- through oppression, civil war, and water crises, their activist spirit blooms.

Judges' Top Picks – Cultural Perspective: 'Oman' by Eliana Lauder

'Oman' by Eliana Lauder

Oman is the perfect example of exceptional leadership. Right across the way, in Yemen, there is civil war, extreme poverty, little infrastructure, and that doesn't even begin to cover it. Yet, somehow, with the same natural resources, the same topography, and same overall development cycles until the last 48 years (since the 1970 Omani coup d'état), Oman has risen above the poverty and has proven to be one of the most progressive states on the Arabian Peninsula all because of Qaboos bin Said al Said’s bloodless overthrow of his father, Sultan Said bin Taimur. Qaboos bin Said al Said’s incredible values-based leadership is what brought Oman from an underdeveloped country, with barely any infrastructure (a total of 6 km of paved roads, in the whole country), healthcare, education, and a population entirely dependent on farming and fishing to survive, to one of electricity, desalination, thriving private enterprise, quality education, economic flourishing, and a value placed on the environment. Qaboos has done incredible things for Oman and it is evidently clear due to that which it is juxtaposed next to. An important thing to note, however, is that Qaboos was able to make so much change in so little time due to his status as an absolute monarch. Often westerners think that democracy is the only way to move a country forward. However, it is important for us to be open minded and think deeply about what would work the best for the country in question in the phase they are in. Oman wasn't ready for a democracy: in this moment in history, they needed Qaboos, a benevolent dictator. Democracy will come, but we’ve seen what happens when we force it on a country that isn’t ready for it.


Listed in alphabetical order by entry title.

'Australia Votes Yaaas to Same-Sex Marriage' by Charlie Pearlman

I had wanted to go abroad to Australia ever since my Blue Devil Days host told me all about his adventures in Sydney. When I stepped on campus, I made sure study abroad was penned into my four-year plan. When it finally came time for me to head to the Southern Continent, I had a comprehensive list of everything I wanted see, every beach to surf, and even every ferry to ride. But perhaps, my fondest memory of all the great experiences in Sydney came off of no list. Instead, I was in the right place at the right time. While I was in Australia last fall, history was being made. The government ordered a referendum, a nation-wide postal vote, over the legalization of same-sex marriage. The voting period was 100 days of sustained excitement, featuring celebrities, “Vote Yaaas” Snapchat filters, sky writers and whatever else it took for 79% of the country to mail in their ballot. At parades like this one, I saw the power of the people joining together, the sprit of love spreading through the city, and signs of a country full of optimism for a better future.

Note from GEO: This entry was originally submitted as an animated GIF. We converted the file to video to satisfy Adobe Spark's file extension requirements.

Honorable Mention – Cultural Perspective: 'Dharavi' by Eliana Lauder

'Dharavi' by Eliana Lauder

Dharavi is the third largest slum in the world and I wasn't entirely sure how to feel about planning a visit to see it. On one hand, was I exploiting the poverty by simply viewing it, just to immediately depart and return to the safety and security of my home? Or would it be turning a blind eye to the reality of the country of India, and truly, the our world, to forgo the opportunity to experience Dharavi. Of course, I chose to visit. To be entirely honest: I had been preparing myself to be practically wading through human filth with the lack of sewage systems and the colossal accumulation of trash in slums (hyperbolic of course but you know what i mean). I was expecting to have to grapple with my desire to plug my nose and possibly ears and even at times want to close my eyes. I was expecting my compassion to overcome me and to even be moved to tears as I have seeing living conditions in the past (and as I had been just 5 minutes before in the car as we watched, of course, Slumdog Millionaire, on the way to Dharavi, seeing some of the most painful moments of Indian poverty, set in this very slum) due to seeing the children, the families and all the maimed/blinded beggars that I’ve been emotionally preparing myself to see for weeks now. However… Of course I was not breathing through my nose and I was having to watch where I stepped to avoid some nasty unrecognizable substances, however, it was an unbelievably pleasant experience. Yes, people were interfacing with trash more than any human most likely should, however they weren’t just living in trash, but making an industry out of it! Dharavi has an annual $1 billion turnover rate of literally just the micro-industries housed just within the slum!!! (Trash recycling, leather recycling, textile recycling and pottery!! Was all made out of other people’s trash!! Not to mention lunch delivery service and laundry delivery service cooperatives). It was incredible to see the way that the “slum” nature was really just a guise that keeps the tourists out which allows the entire ecosystem to thrive without beggars or the disturbances of a western/colonial/tourist presence. The place was truly a feat of human dexterity and it was unbelievably inspiring how the entire community is built upon the transition of trash to treasure. I mean quite literally, the slum emerged out of a dump and has been built on top of one of the world’s largest trash piles! The place may not be aesthetically beautiful but everything about it, from the people of all religions living in total harmony to the remarkable industrious/cooperative nature of the residents, the energy was just stunning. Many Indians complain about how Indian poverty is not only sensationalized & misrepresented by the media (especially American media to maintain an American exceptionalist outlook on the world) and complain that outsiders see poverty as simply poverty and often are too turned off by its appearance to look closer to see the underlying clockwork (by which functions one of the most productive economies in India). Both this Indian frustration as well as my reaction begs the question of whether or not I saw the whole picture today. We made special effort to avoid hiring a guide with any association to the government whatsoever and we probed them on socio-political issues so hard that I don’t even think a government guide could successfully sneak inauthenticity through us. However, we never know, and as the tour was only an hour, I know we only saw a very, very small portion of Dharavi. There are many parts of the slum that are much dirtier, more impoverished and less productive, and I know they exist and don’t mean to discount them. I guess I just find it remarkable that even if it is not the vast majority of the slum—in fact, even if it was a minority, that the Dharavi that I saw exists. My point here I guess was that it was more of an inspiring experience than anything else, which was interesting how much of a surprise that was. I really mean this not as “wow look what they do with so little” but rather “wow I have never seen a more efficient and productive society and if there were even 1 comparable community in every country, we might not have the same amount of senseless waste problems that we have today.” There are many slums both in other parts of India and the Favelas in Brazil, Kibera in Kenya, in Mexico, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc etc that are nowhere near this productive and I anticipate having different experiences visiting them, which will require even more preparation and reflection but all in all Dharavi was remarkable and reminded me that things aren’t always limited to what Google images can show.

Honorable Mention – Cultural Perspective: 'Friendly Photobomb' by Amanda Gross

'Friendly Photobomb' by Amanda Gross

The Opera House, crystal blue water, city skyscrapers, and friendly animals: what more could you want in a city? Whether it was saying "g’day mate" every chance you got to the locals, or taking the train down to Bondi Beach for a beautiful coastal walk, people watching and photo shoot, Sydney truly demonstrated its incredible culture through the affable people/animals, breathtaking scenery, world's best coffee and unique slang. Best of all was going to the local zoo across the harbor, Taronga Zoo, and taking selfies with kangaroos, koalas, quokkas, and more. But no one was more photogenic than the giraffe pictured above, Genevieve. Not only did she pose in front of the opera house for me, but she even managed to tilt her head up just enough to smile for the camera.

Honorable Mention – Cultural Perspective: 'Maori Ancestors' by Elaine Cox

'Maori Ancestors' by Elaine Cox

This picture was taken during my art history class on the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. We were exploring a marae, or a Maori meeting house for a local iwi (tribe). It is a form of art adopted in the early 1900s as a way of expressing their whakapapa, or genealogy. This had originally been done on their wake (canoes), but had slowly been taken over in popularity by marae. The marae itself is an ancestor, with the beams inside representing its spine and ribs. The inside is also intricately carved with ancestors, including the two photographed. When I snapped the picture, the stained glass window tinted the image with a unearthly purple glow. Because of the otherworldly glow, I was reminded of how powerful the Maori tradition is. The Maori tradition is a rich one of family and community that, even as I actively tried to learn about and experience, I would never fully understand. My visit to the local marae ended up being a very humbling one.

Honorable Mention – Cultural Perspective: 'Sacred' by Sara Evall

'Sacred' by Sara Evall

I often wonder if there is anything American society holds collectively sacred. Perhaps capitalism, perhaps the pledge of allegiance, perhaps the constitution – but nothing seems to perfectly fit. One thing I know absolutely is that in the American context, the environment is cast aside. However, the Mapuche people of Curarrehue, Chile feel quite the opposite: the natural world seems to be the most sacred element of their culture, a culture I was so warmly and movingly welcomed into. On one of my program’s days in Curarrehue, we were guided on what we were told would be a brief hike with a tiny bit of snow. After 22 kilometers, 3-foot-deep snow, and what will probably be the most strenuous impromptu day of physical activity of my life (I have lived a relatively easy life), we drove away from a snowed-covered volcano with a deeper understanding, respect, and appreciation for the majesty of the environment. Our guides showed us trees over 1,300 years old that provide food to the tribe, taught us what it means in the local context to pay it forward, and taught us to thank the land beneath us.

Honorable Mention – Cultural Perspective: 'Smoggy City' by Harold Elworthy

'Smoggy City' by Harold Elworthy

I hate smog. It makes me cough and gives me migraines. Over my semester in Hong Kong, it became one of the only things I disliked about the city. Through my classes and the Hong Kong friends I made, I learned that to many that live there, smog is a more sinister enemy than what I had felt. Smog often gets blown over Hong Kong from mainland China. Friends I made told me that smog was not just dirty air but also a geopolitical issue. The externalities of smog beyond China's borders are beyond the political realm of any other country to control. This creates a public feeling of futility, my friends insisted: no matter what is done in the SAR, a southerly wind will bring black clouds. I learned in my classes that the most smoggy areas are those with the highest level of poverty, and that people there suffer the most from smog's negative health impacts. My teachers insisted that smog was not only an environmental issue, but also a class issue. This complex understanding of air pollution, as a geopolitical and class problem, was a vast departure from the simplistic unhappiness I had previously felt.

Honorable Mention – Cultural Perspective: 'Te Amo Humano' by Sam Osheroff

'Te Amo Humano' by Sam Osheroff

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Costa Rica’s urban culture is the seemingly insatiable drive towards modernization and westernization. For a city that paved its central highway less than 30 years ago, the ubiquity of digital age commodities in San José is staggering, with smartphone advertisements on every billboard and free wifi signs on every restaurant window. As my native Spanish cultural teacher wisely said, though, “with all progress comes loss.” When I first came across this beautifully photorealistic graffiti piece, I was taken aback by its juxtaposition with the surrounding messages which, though painted separately, provide poignant commentary: “MI DOLOR ES IGNORADO Y SILENCIADO (My pain is ignored and silenced)” and “te amo humano (I love you, human)”. The struggle between the human and the digital, shown artfully in the pixels eating away at the child’s face, speaks to the internal conflict of a people in the act of surrendering aspects of their lives and values to the impetus of modernization. Amidst all this strife, though, one finds a message of love for humanity’s sake, powerful enough in its simplicity to strike at the very heart of what ties us together even as forces work to push us apart.

Honorable Mention – Cultural Perspective: 'Young Girl Washing Sea Shells' by Lara Breitkreutz

'Young Girl Washing Sea Shells' by Lara Breitkreutz

An immersive experience in Australia necessitates developing an understanding of the indigenous peoples. This was their country, and we were merely visitors. Upon arrival, I was not aware of the cultural richness of the aborigines, my personal vision of Australia overwhelmed by tanned bodies, a surfing culture, a ‘hang loose’ attitude and the much-revered boomerang. I was confronted by a less articulated reality. Australia’s history, from its idiosyncratic cultural development to its biological and ecological geographies, could only be fully understood and appreciated by a narrative including the aborigine peoples. They witnessed, they lived and learned for tens of thousands of years, they suffered, their voices stifled and only now beginning to be heard. I was only a visitor.



Reflections of a personal nature

Best in Category – Self-Awareness: 'Floating' by Katie Nelson

'Floating' by Katie Nelson

Wadi Rum, Jordan // This past semester, I had two friends take up acro-yoga -- no intentions of disciplined practice, it was just something to pass the time between lectures, bus rides, and 13-hour flights. This image was taken one morning in Wadi Rum, Jordan, during our mid-semester break. In many ways, this photo calms me. While I cannot explain my semester to you in 200 words, I can articulate that this reminds me of something we often lacked. For much of our four months, the 30 of us in the program felt an indescribable sense of heaviness. In struggling with human rights on the most macro and micro levels, much of the experience created a sense of collective numbness. In the levity of watching these two try, fail, and try again with each pose, there came a contrasting sense of weightlessness. It places me back in the memory of a cool morning in desert; it grounds me now, reminding me to appreciate the lighter moments, just as much as it brought me back down to earth then.

Runner Up – Self-Awareness: 'What's Given to You' by Lance Tran

'What's Given to You' by Lance Tran

Growing up in the Midwest as one of the only Asian American kids in my school meant not having a sense of cultural community and representation outside of stereotypes. You tend to take cultural marginalization for granted. But during my time in Hong Kong, I felt a sense of centeredness that I never had before. I saw people in advertisements who had features and skin like mine. I heard Cantonese, my first language that I felt embarrassed speaking, being embraced and used as the norm. I saw a different definition of 'cool' and 'beautiful' that was neither white nor appropriative, and could include someone who looked like me. I grew up with a sense of humor, foods, and a language that I only ever heard at home. Seeing and hearing this sense of home every day, with all of its contours and complexities being embraced was affirming in such a profound way. I chose this picture because I first felt disappointed in how rainy it was. But the sky is going to rain and the sun is going to shine whether you like it or not. You can change your heritage and race as much as you can change the weather up above. So you might as well get wet and enjoy the beauty of what was offered to you.


Listed in alphabetical order by entry title.

Judges' Top Picks – Self-Awareness: 'Jam sandwiches, pudding, and Kafka' by Matthew Riley

'Jam sandwiches, pudding, and Kafka' by Matthew Riley

In Berlin, waves of loneliness and homesickness thrashed me about. Six thousand miles away from my family and friends, I'd never felt more adrift. Direct human connection was fleeting – it was difficult to make friends. I found myself longing for simpler days, wishing that I could metamorphose back into a child. If only. As I grew as a photographer and learned to play with light, shadow and form, I found it easier to connect with my inner child. Curiosity became my solitary guide while I walked unfamiliar city streets in Berlin, Paris and Prague. For perhaps the first time in my life, everything was as new and unfamiliar as when I was a child. On a short stay in Prague, I saw two girls - no older than eight or nine - standing in front of Kafka's birthplace. They joked and giggled where the young Kafka had once played, eating jam sandwiches and pudding. Past and future collided. I snapped the photo, breathless. For a moment I was intermediary, standing between the long-dead child that became Kafka, and the young children in front of me. And I could feel the single, unnamable golden thread that connects everyone, undaunted by time.

Judges' Top Picks – Self-Awareness: 'Thousand Year Vats' by Noah Martin

'Thousand Year Vats' by Noah Martin

The western world experienced an entire industrial revolution that increased the output and decreased the price of most consumer goods. In its wake was left the decay of the livelihoods of skilled artisans who had mastered traditions of production, passed down for millennia. However, the resilience of true craftsmanship still thrives in Fez, where the Chouara Tannery has been continuously functional since the 11th century, producing leather by hand the same way it has since the day it opened. This type of tradition (albeit an odorous one) is almost like a religion, passed down within from generation to generation. This is a sentiment that I identify with having been raised in a Jewish household. In Judaism, tradition plays as important a role as spirituality. Knowing that I am taking part in traditions that have been passed down for thousands of years makes them all the more meaningful, just as this ancient tanning tradition makes their products all the more special.

Judges' Top Picks – Self-Awareness: 'Welcomed Discomfort (2)' by Ray Baker

'Welcomed Discomfort (2)' by Ray Baker

How often are we truly uncomfortable? All trivial incidents aside, my answer as a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, woman of Duke is nearly never. Perhaps it was this new sensation of discomfort that will forever mark Marrakech in my memory. Nowhere else on my travels or in my life has the color of my skin, or its sheer amount of exposed surface area (from the ankles-down and the collar bone-up,) elicited so much solicitude. By the huddled men on each curve of the souk I was coined “the one in red,” their deep stares following our seemingly florescent skin around each snaking bend of the unmapped maze. Our fair hair betrayed our narrow ability to keep up with high speed haggling and solicited shouts of unmatched bargains for Moroccan delicacies that would aid our stress, induce deep and peaceful slumbers, and cure our aging bodies of all strife and ailments. The air of risk carried us home from the market as the call to prayer challenged us to break our associations with extremism and chaos and instead to listen and take note as the city around us halted to pray.


Listed in alphabetical order by entry title.

Honorable Mention – Self-Awareness: 'A Front-Row Witness' by Katherine Berko

'A Front-Row Witness' by Katherine Berko

The mosque’s microphone calls people to prayer, causing Arabic syllables to bounce off cobblestones. One man hurries down the street, carefully avoiding the cascading rainwater. The downpour is an unexpected part of my Moroccan tour. Yet, the biggest shock came at the end of my visit. As my tour bus drove across the border into the autonomous Spanish city of Ceuta, two little boys crawled under the vehicle. They were trying to sneak through customs and take the quick ferry to mainland Spain, where they hoped to create better lives. The bus driver said that every time he’s at customs, children sneak under the bus. Sometimes, they are killed. When I asked where the children go in Spain, he said they fend for themselves on the streets. I couldn’t believe it! They were so young! I thought about all of the articles I’d read about illegal immigration. It’s one thing to read about tragedies but quite another to become a front-row witness to them. This is exactly what characterized my time abroad. I went out into the world and rather than learning about things from textbooks, I encountered them in-person. Words have influence but lived experiences change one’s perspective forever.

Honorable Mention – Self-Awareness: 'Being a Brit' by Shannon Malloy

'Being a Brit' by Shannon Malloy

When two girls approached me during my first week in London and asked if I knew how to play rugby, I said no. But when they asked me if I wanted to learn, I said of course! Joining the Queen Mary Bart’s of London women’s rugby team was the highlight of my abroad experience. One of my goals abroad was to do something that was fundamentally and wholly English—and playing rugby was the perfect way to “become a Brit”! I had little idea how wearing a kit, cleats, and gum shield would transform my entire identity. Rugby quickly became more than a weeknight pastime—besides making incredible friends, it was a critical turning point in my journey of self-reflection in London. I began to appreciate my body in new ways, praising it for its strength, not flaws, and admiring how the pure confidence of my teammates made them shine. Rugby empowered me to a new level of strength I had never known before—that of total self-love. Though my rugby boots stay in my closet still covered in British mud, the lessons I learned on the pitch are with me every day back at Duke.

Honorable Mention – Self-Awareness: 'Reflections' by Emilia Chojkiewicz

'Reflections' by Emilia Chojkiewicz

With all that I have seen on my study abroad experience, I think this would be my favorite sight. The reflection of Mt Cook and surrounding mountains on Lake Pukaki in southern New Zealand was breathtaking. I will say, however, that while capturing reflections on water makes for a nice photo, it is something more to me. I think about how numerous conditions had to line up and work out – lighting, time of day, wind, humidity, clouds, etc. – to offer this view. It was meant to be. Then I think about all the other things which have lined up and worked out in life to offer me an incredible study abroad and the opportunities to see all that I have had, and I feel incredibly humbled.

Honorable Mention – Self-Awareness: 'Religion in Public Spaces' by Sara Evall

'Religion in Public Spaces' by Sara Evall

Growing up as a very, very reform Jew (or Jew “ish”), religious displays were reserved for holidays at home, at temple, and Bar Mitzvah season. Otherwise, thoughts of religion in the public sphere evoke images of unrest, ranging from inspirational civil rights marches led by religious figures to scarier images of Planned Parenthood protesters and equal-marriage rejecters. My experience at Buddha Stupa, called Boudhanath (a massive stupa, or a Buddhist religious shrine, in the middle of Kathandu), shattered that feeling. Boudhanath is awe-inspiring, and as I stood watching, throngs of worshippers moved peacefully around the stupa, paying their respects as Buddha’s eyes gaze upon them and upon the rows of souvenir shops, which acted as their own shrines to capitalism. Smiling faces and sounds of bells, quiet chatter, and prayer flags rustling in the winds helped me understand how public religious observance can be unifying, joyful, and yet still serene.

Honorable Mention – Self-Awareness: 'Specks of Dust' by Sara Evall

'Specks of Dust' by Sara Evall

What is perspective? I wondered this over and over again as I roamed through unfamiliar streets in unfamiliar countries, taking in the sites, sounds, and smells through my American eyes. Watching a paraglider against the backdrop of what looked like a very big mountain moved me towards thinking about perspective in terms of the tininess of humankind – very typical “I went abroad” musings. Suddenly, though, as I watched this tiny figure float down toward the lake below, a gust of wind hit and cleared the clouds hovering over the mountains. One of the peaks of the Himalayas poked through the clouds, dwarfing the mountain that dwarfed the human paragliding. I have never felt so small, and so happy to feel small. The grace and majesty of these absolutely massive mountains reminded me that, in the midst of global crises and constructed human problems, our planet will keep spinning, and there will always be beauty to find.

Honorable Mention – Self-Awareness: 'The Road Ahead' by Rebekah Wellons

'The Road Ahead' by Rebekah Wellons

I’ve always been someone with drive but no direction. I work and work at the things that I’m passionate about, but I’ve always lacked a sense of where I’m meant to be heading long-term. Duke in Glasgow changed that for me. At Glasgow University, I had the opportunity to start fresh. Throughout the semester we tried all sorts of new things, from interviewing members of parliament to learning the bagpipes. Because the environment was so welcoming and free of preconceived notions, each opportunity brought the chance to openly consider how each challenge affected me. And, just like this road in the highlands, my path soon became clear. I realized that my love of art and community is something that I need to spend my life chasing. And I can’t wait to get started.

Honorable Mention – Self-Awareness: 'Welcomed Discomfort' by Ray Baker

'Welcomed Discomfort' by Ray Baker

How often are we truly uncomfortable? All trivial incidents aside, my answer as a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, woman of Duke is nearly never. Perhaps it was this new sensation of discomfort that will forever mark Marrakech in my memory. Nowhere else on my travels or in my life has the color of my skin, or its sheer amount of exposed surface area (from the ankles-down and the collar bone-up,) elicited so much solicitude. By the huddled men on each curve of the souk I was coined “the one in red,” their deep stares following our seemingly florescent skin around each snaking bend of the unmapped maze. Our fair hair betrayed our narrow ability to keep up with high speed haggling and solicited shouts of unmatched bargains for Moroccan delicacies that would aid our stress, induce deep and peaceful slumbers, and cure our aging bodies of all strife and ailments. The air of risk carried us home from the market as the call to prayer challenged us to break our associations with extremism and chaos and instead to listen and take note as the city around us halted to pray.


We'd like to thank to everyone who invested the time to write a reflection for the GEOReflects Contest this year. After you study away, it can be easy to speed ahead to what's next, but at GEO we believe it's worth taking a moment to look back.

We would also like to extend an extra special thank you to the judges who dedicated their time and attention to reviewing each and every submission.


The opinions expressed in contest entries are those of the authors. Contest entries are uploaded "as submitted"; GEO does not perform any editing or fact-checking to correct typos, spelling/grammar errors, or inaccuracies in cited facts and statistics.


All photos in this story were entries to the 2018 GEOReflects Photo Contest hosted by the Duke University Global Education Office for Undergraduates. Photos may not be used or reproduced without permission of the individual credited for each photo.

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